7 ways to create an effective learning environment for your horse

I am a primary school teacher and therefore I understand the value and importance of a suitable learning environment. This might be something you haven’t considered when working with your horse, but if you think about your everyday experiences, it might change the way you set up the learning situations for your horse.

For example, there’s evidence that suggests busy classroom walls with bold colours can be distracting to children in a classroom. This affects the quality of their learning. Additionally, in my class, I struggle to get my students to focus at times because the school is open plan which means a lot of noise creeps in, distracting my class.

So, if we think about this in horse terms, a busy environment with lots to look at and listen to is less than ideal to promote engagement in horses.

Of course, a learning environment is not all about the physical setting. If the setting is suitable, then we need to be thinking on a deeper level about how we can create successful and purposeful learning opportunities. Basically, it is about management.

Here are 7 ways you can set up an engaging, purposeful and effective learning environment for every and any training session with your horse; whether that be lunging, riding, groundwork or liberty.

Allow your horse to ask questions

Learning is not a passive activity. Learning is active. Learning involves engagement, thinking and trial and error. If I were to stand in front of my students and give them lectures all day they would learn very little. They need to be getting involved by trying out ideas and they need to ask questions. This is the best way to promote engagement.

So why is it, horse training is always ‘done to’ the horse rather than with the horse? Allow your horse to figure things out and ask questions. When you pay attention, you will start to notice small signals which highlight your horse asking ‘is this what you want?’. For example, his ear turning towards you or a small shuffle in the desired direction. If you listen, let him ask, then answer him positively you are already promoting a much more inclusive learning environment.

Take the time it takes

“If you act like you’ve only got fifteen minutes, it will take all day. Act like you’ve got all day, it will take fifteen minutes.”

Monty Roberts

I think this quote almost speaks for itself. I completely agree with it. If you rush something or you have expectations which are too high, you will likely not achieve what you set out to. You’re putting too much pressure on the situation and a horse can sense that. I tend to go into a training session with an idea of what I want to achieve, but I’m flexibly minded enough to know that if I put too much pressure on and expect my goals to be met in a certain period, it usually doesn’t happen.

Set your horse up for success

Good horse training requires a lot of analysis. However, I find that as humans, we try to rush things without thinking about how it looks from the perspective of the horse or pony we are dealing with. If we can take a step back and really consider it from our horses’ shoes, we can set up situations where the horse is successful- meaning they are likely to repeat the positive behaviour. I find this is really important. So, rather than setting your horse up for mistakes where you have to correct them, set them up for success where you can reward them.

Variety is key

Setting up a variety of experiences will help to create a well rounded horse and a well balanced partnership. If you have a varied training schedule, your horse will likely be much more engaged and so will you. It gets boring doing the same thing over and over, shake it up a bit!

Don’t live by strict training plans

A strict training plan may be necessary to get your horse in the shape he needs to be for the event you are working toward. However, there must be room for flexibility. Horses are like people and they do have off days. For example, if I feel Bo is just not feeling it on a schooling day, I might just take him a relaxing hack instead. It meets his needs more and he is still being exercised. It won’t be life or death if I don’t school that day.

Listen to the horse

For any productive learning to occur, we must simply listen to the horse. Watch for his responses and work from these responses. These will gauge the direction of the training session. Get in sync with your horse and notice how he is feeling on that particular day and you will get much more out of the learning experience. By listening you are also valuing your horses’ opinion (because they all have one!), thus really nurturing a positive relationship.

Get your mindset right before you go in

Getting your mindset right means working on you. You need to be able to focus entirely on the present and pay attention to your horse. No texting, calling or distractions; just you and your horse.

Your emotional mindset has a lot to answer for. If you are tense, anxious or upset about something before you start to work with your horse, your horse will know this and they won’t be at their best. Instead, either choose to re-schedule or try to work through your emotions and lay them aside to focus entirely on your horse. If you can do this, it actually improves your mood as you take a break from all your own worries and just focus on one thing.

Alternatively, if you go into a session thinking that your horse will not do what you ask or you’re worried about falling off, messing up or just not being able to do what you want to do, this is stemming from self-belief and self-worth. You need to be confident with your horse. You need to guide him/her and show them that you know what you’re doing. It’s easier said than done but this can have a huge impact on what you get out of your training sessions. After all, you can’t learn from someone who doesn’t seem to know what they’re doing!

So there you have it, 7 ways to create an effective learning environment for your horse. I hope these help you to think about how you set up training sessions for your horse and to create a positive relationship.

Happy Horsing!

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